ABC harvests ‘Raisin’

Legiter comes to TV with Combs and cast

Sony Pictures TV-based producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are mounting a small-screen take on “A Raisin in the Sun” for ABC, with Sean “Diddy” Combs and the main cast of the 2004 Broadway revival on board to star.

Zadan and Meron and Combs will exec produce via their respective Storyline Entertainment and Bad Boy World Wide Entertainment Group shingles. Three of the Broadway producers — Carl Rumbaugh, Susan Batson and David Binder — also are exec producers.

Combs, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan will reprise their Broadway roles for the pic; lensing begins in Toronto in December for a 2007 bow on ABC.

Paris Qualles (“The Tuskegee Airmen”) will pen the script based on Lorraine Hansberry’s original play and feature screenplay.

Kenny Leon, who snagged a Drama Desk nom for his staging of the “Raisin” revival, is set to direct the ABC project. It’ll be his first turn as a helmer for a TV or film project.

Zadan and Meron previously facilitated the move of director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) from legit to film, tapping him to direct their ABC adaptation of “Annie.”

Combs — who’ll also take a large role in supervising the soundtrack to “Raisin” — told Daily Variety that bringing Hansberry’s work to a new generation was the motivating factor for the telepic.

“There are so many things the younger generation can get out of this,” Combs said. “It’s an American story of overcoming obstacles that still rings true. It’s important for people of color, especially younger ones, to see this.”

The Combs-led 2004 revival attracted a diverse range of demos to Broadway, and ABC is counting on his presence to do the same for the TV version. Indeed, getting Combs and the three female leads aboard was key to getting the pic greenlit; it’s taken Zadan and Meron nearly two years to put the project together.

“We all said we would only do this project if we got all of the original cast,” Zadan said, a proclamation echoed in separate interviews with Combs and ABC longform topper Quinn Taylor.

Taylor said Combs and the three femme leads “reach an audience that’s hard to reach. They legitimize it for an audience pool that isn’t running to network movies.”

Zadan and Meron began the process of bringing “Raisin” to television not long after seeing the Broadway revival. They first pitched the idea to Sony longform chief Helen Verno, who “immediately recognized how important this would be for Sony,” Zadan said.

Sony produced the 1961 film adaptation of “Raisin,” which Meron calls “a fortuitous coincidence.”

“Raisin” marks the first Zadan/Meron project to get the go-ahead since McPherson took over ABC Entertainment. McPherson worked with Zadan/Meron when he ran Touchstone Television, Storyline’s home for series projects and musical longform.

While the few network longform projects still being greenlit tend to be popcorn fare — from NBC’s “10.5: Apocalypse” to ABC’s recent bird flu pandemic pic — Taylor said the Alphabet is still committed to producing classier fare, be it from Oprah Winfrey or Zadan and Meron.

“Steve (McPherson) wants to do water-cooler movies, movies that matter, stories that count,” Taylor said. “There is still an audience for a good TV movie.”

Storyline TV development and production chief Royce Bergman will coordinate production on behalf of the shingle.

Original 1959 production of “Raisin” marked the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett Jr. toplined both the play and the 1961 feature.

The 2004 “Raisin” garnered four Tony noms — including revival — and won two.

Rashad earned the actress Tony for “Raisin,” making her the first African-American thesp to win in the category. McDonald, who won the featured actress Tony, last worked with Zadan and Meron in “Annie.”

Lathan snagged a nom for featured actress.

Zadan and Meron, exec producers of “Chicago,” are working on the feature adaptation of “Hairspray.” Duo’s past body of TV work — including “Cinderella,” “Gypsy” and “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows” — has earned 11 Emmys.

Combs is repped by the Safran Company.

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